Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Brothers Bloom -- Review

I enjoy movies with twist endings and gimmick films when they're done effectively. Se7en, for example, floored me. The tricky thing -- literally -- is adeptly fooling an audience with cinematic legerdemain; for if the viewer spots the twist too early, the game is up and the remainder of the film suffers. It makes or breaks a film. I'm not much of a fan of The Sixth Sense because I knew going in that there was a twist, and I spotted it within the first twenty minutes. On the other hand, I love Christopher Nolan's The Prestige to death, because it got me even though I was aware of one. The rivalry plot is so engrossing that I forgot to look for clues, whereas The Sixth Sense is, upon second viewing, plodding and dull. Guess which film I often revisit.

Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom is not a film I'll revisit, and I'm honestly a little depressed by that realization. Maybe I'll watch the first hour now and again, then I'll lament how such a whimsical tale turns so downright awful.

Bloom has so much going for it that I hope you, Constance Retard, can sympathize in my sorrow. It stars Adrian Brody, Mark "The Spark" Ruffalo, and Raechel Weisz. Recipe for fine acting: check. It's beautifully shot and edited, and both the film's score and its soundtrack are memorable, leaving lasting impressions like cuts to flesh. It's a gorgeous film full of subdued-yet-hilarious humor, and it drives me nuts that, overall, I didn't like it. I really wanted to. I still do. But I can't.

Because the plot is so damn predictable and frustrating.

(It will, assuredly, become a cult classic.)

Look, in contrast with what you might have heard, I'm not an idiot; so if you make a movie about con men, my first thought is that I'm going to be the one who is conned. In this instance, I would, as I always am, be correct. And I would be fine with that as long as your movie is able to hook me -- con me, so to speak -- into being interested in its characters. The Brothers Bloom fails in that regard.

The performances are fine; it's the script that fails them. I could watch Adrian Brody watch paint dry (and have), but as Bloom* he never becomes anything other than a hollow shell, a crudely sketched character; and if you're making Bloom your main character, you'd be well served to make him something other than one-dimensional. Mark Ruffalo's Stephen is similarly cookie-cutter, but at least he brings a performer's showmanship to the feature**. Robbie Coltrane, too, spices up the proceedings with a horrible Belgian accent but a well-written supporting role, as does Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang, who, ironically, out-acts the entire cast solely through facial expressions. Honestly, Bang Bang is the most intriguing character in the film, which doesn't speak well of Johnson's dialogue writing but does of his visual acumen***. Again, it's a pretty film full of lustrous design.

It's just too bad that the plot sucks. I'm all for pioneering and innovation (especially when it comes to male sex toys), but where Johnson wows on the surface visually and imaginatively, he craps the bed narratively. Simply put, The Brothers Bloom, beneath its admittedly sexy makeup, isn't an amusing story. It's frustrating. It's predictable.

I'm conflicted because I think Rian Johnson is a talented writer/director who deserves a shot in Hollywood based on everything that works in Bloom, but I can't recommend the film as an enjoyable experience. It betrays intelligent film watchers with a bogus fourth, fifth, and sixth act, and in doing so reveals a storytelling weakness that can't be masked, no matter how great the pledge or the turn is.

Sizzle and no steak, no prestige.

But, my, what a gorgeous failure.

2.5/4 *_*

* Brody's character is never given a first name. There are references to classic literature peppered throughout the film (Melville, Dostoevsky, Stephanie Meyer), but the most obvious yet unaddressed is the Joyce-influenced character names. "Stephen," "Penelope"...I am to assume Brody plays Leopold. Thankfully, he doesn't masturbate on a beach. Fuck I hate Ulysses.

** For a film that is so translucently meta, it's obvious that Stephen is an extension of Rian Johnson.

*** I'm aware that Johnson wrote and directed Brick, a film dense in noir dialogue. I've never seen it. Maybe Bang Bang is his response to critics who felt Brick was too heavy on language. I bet I'm right. Regardless, Bang Bang is undoubtedly the film's most interesting character.

1 comment:

TMH said...

"I'm aware that Johnson wrote and directed Brick, a film dense in noir dialogue. I've never seen it."

1. See Brick immediately.

2. Thank me afterward.